Workplaces Revealed: John Jackson, Virginia Tech

As a kid in school, I tried to avoid the principal’s office. Not that the principal at my grade school was a bad guy, but I was more worried about the repercussions at home. I found some small irony in that childhood strategy when I learned that my current workplace was the principal’s office when it was once Blacksburg Elementary School.

Today, it’s the Media Building on the edge of Virginia Tech’s campus. Web Communications, Marketing and Publications, and the Visual and Broadcast Communications units within University Relations share the two-story brick building that was constructed in 1934.

My office is tucked within a bigger suite, which means a lot of folks visiting for the first time don’t see it. I often hear “Is John around?” in the outer hallway. Having worked for a cube-designed dot-com company and later in an open newsroom, it took some adjusting to get used to the space, especially having a door for the first time in more than a decade. Besides, those of us who work online all day (and night) are used to turning a number of locations — coffee tables, kitchen areas, airport bars — into offices when duty calls.

I have a desk that, in its past life, was used by a top-level administrator for the university. I hardly use it, though. Instead, I found a lecturer’s computer table at our surplus facility and converted that to a standup desk. Yes, I’m one of “those” people who stand most of the day, primarily to help with a bad back that likes to remind me that I’m not 19 anymore.

Most of the items are similar to what you’d find in any web person’s office: the obligatory dual monitor setup, whiteboard, calendars, rolled up flipchart sheets from past usability sessions, and scraps of paper related to ongoing projects. My walls are pretty bare, except for the latest artwork from one of my kids or things I’ve found online that had to be printed out and tacked up for posterity.

Web Communications takes up one small wing of the building, which means my entire team is just outside my door. This proximity makes for a great atmosphere to collaborate. It can also lead to a lot of yelling in the hall, often by yours truly, as we work on a project together. For two days each week, the IT side of the content management system that we use works out of our building. This arrangement helps us keep a strong tie with our IT colleagues, which has proven critical when we’ve needed their support.